Taylor war-crimes trial enters final phase

The lawyer of former Liberian president Charles Taylor on Wednesday dismissed his war-crimes trial as a political conspiracy and said Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi should have been in the dock.

Alleging “selective” prosecution, Courtenay Griffiths reminded the Special Court for Sierra Leone that its mandate was to try those with the greatest responsibility for the country’s brutal 10-year civil war.

“Why is Colonel Muammar Gaddafi not in the dock?” Griffiths asked judges trying his client for arming Sierra Leone rebels in exchange for blood diamonds.

“What about [Burkina Faso’s President] Blaise Campaore?” he added.

Taylor’s trial for arming Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in exchange for blood diamonds entered its final phase on Wednesday with the start of defence closing arguments.

The 62-year-old, the first African head of state to be tried in an international tribunal, has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role as “the Godfather of the RUF”.

He was in court for his lawyer’s statement, listening attentively from the dock dressed in a dark grey suit with crisp white shirt, tie and gold cuff-links.

The Sierra Leone civil war claimed about 120 000 lives in the 10 years to 2001, with RUF rebels, whom prosecutors described as Taylor’s “surrogate army”, mutilating thousands of civilians by hacking off their limbs.

‘Politically motivated’
Griffiths insisted that justice should be applied equally to all, but “whether that is the case is a matter for debate”.

“It is to the shame of this prosecution that it has besmirched the lofty ideals of international criminal law by turning this case into a 20th-century form of neo-colonialism.” the lawyer said.

Repeating claims that Taylor believed some powerful countries to be “out to get him”, Griffiths insisted that the trial was “politically motivated” and claimed the prosecution had paid witnesses, “some of them extravagantly”.

Prosecutor Nicholas Kumjian told judges in the morning that other leaders like Gaddafi and Campaore had also supported the RUF, but it remained “a proxy army under one person, Charles Taylor”.

“The involvement of Muammar Gaddafi and Blaise Campaore has been proven,” Kumjian told the court, but “the RUF did not fight for Blaise Campaore, it did not fight ... for Muammar Gaddafi”.

Taylor’s trial, which started in earnest more than three years ago, is expected to conclude on Friday, after which the judges will retire to consider their judgement, expected in mid-2011.

The trial has heard gruesome testimony from victims of the conflict, including a witness who said he pleaded with RUF rebels to cut off his remaining hand so they would spare his toddler son.

Others claimed his fighters strung human intestines across roads, removed foetuses from the wombs of women and practised cannibalism.

In exchange for aiding the rebels, prosecutors claim, Taylor received “mayonnaise jars” of so-called blood diamonds from the RUF.—AFP



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